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Das Bild zeigt eine hohe Welle, die symbolisch für die Flut an Hassnachrichten gegen Forscher*innen und Anfeindungen in der Wissenschaft.

From Hate Speech to Death Threats: Hostility towards Science is a Serious Problem

27 May 2024

Results of the First Nationwide Representative Study on Hostility in Science Published

Berlin, Hannover, 16 May 2024. Populist campaigns, hate speech and even death threats – researchers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, faced attacks that led some to withdraw from public communication. Empirical knowledge about hostility towards science in Germany has been limited until now. How widespread is this hostility? Who is most affected? Are there differences across disciplines? A new representative survey of German scientists provides initial answers. Conducted by the German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (DZHW) in cooperation with the KAPAZ project consortium, this study explores the extent of hostility against researchers and develops institutional resources to protect them online and offline.

“The survey of 2,600 scientists shows that hostility towards researchers is a serious problem affecting not just professors but individuals at all levels within the academic community”, says Clemens Blümel, a researcher at DZHW who led the survey. “The attacks are not always external; there is also hostility and derogatory behaviour within the scientific community.”

The study highlights that scientists are increasingly facing hostility, denigration, and even attacks due to the complex relationship between society and science. Research findings and scientific expertise are frequently debated in public, creating more tensions, especially when scientific results underpin socially and politically contentious decisions. “Anger over these political decisions or the feeling of limited personal agency can result in attacks against researchers, as indicated by open responses in the survey,” explains Blümel. The survey results raise further questions that can be examined in qualitative interviews or focus group discussions.

What can scientists do to protect themselves from hostility, attacks and defamation? The KAPAZ project consortium offers initial solutions: “We are not only researching the extent and forms of hostility towards science but also creating institutional support structures for universities and researchers. Our offerings provide affected individuals with the skills to prevent and counteract hostility”, says project leader Nataliia Sokolovska, research director at HIIG. “Critical discourses differ from hostility and defamation campaigns, which can lead to self-censorship among researchers. In the worst cases, important topics, such as climate change, are no longer being researched due to the significant pressures”, she adds. Since July 2023, Scicomm-Support, a central nationwide advisory service for researchers and science communicators, has been providing support for hostility in science communication. This enables research findings to be directly translated into practical assistance.

The survey data will contribute to a scientific study involving Clemens Blümel, Nataliia Sokolovska, Benedikt Fecher, managing director of Wissenschaft im Dialog, and Birte Fähnrich, a researcher at Freie Universität Berlin. The insights gained will be used to develop support services to help researchers handle hostility towards science in the future. Various measures will be implemented: there will be the further development of the nationwide advisory service for scientists and science communicators (Scicomm-Support), the creation of guidelines with initial measures for those affected in critical situations, the establishment of a train-the-trainer program for communication officers at universities and other scientific institutions, and the creation of a summer school for early-career scientists.

You can find the dossier for reporting here (in German): Survey insights


The KAPAZ project consortium is coordinated by the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) and includes partners such as the German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (DZHW), Wissenschaft im Dialog (WiD), the Federal Association for University Communication (BV_HKOM), the Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI), and the Berlin School of Public Engagement and Open Science (BSOPE) at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin (MfN) and Freie Universität Berlin. The KAPAZ project is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation under the “Impulse for the Science System” funding line.

The project consortium website can be found here: KAPAZ Project

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Frederik Efferenn | Tel. +49 30 200 760 82 |

The Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society

The Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) researches the development of the Internet from a societal perspective in order to better understand the accompanying digitalisation of all areas of life. As the first research institute in Germany with a focus on Internet and society, HIIG has developed an understanding that emphasises the embedding of digital innovations in social processes. Based on this transdisciplinary expertise and as part of the Global Network of Interdisciplinary Internet & Society Research Centers, HIIG aims to develop a European response to digital structural change.

Frederik Efferenn

Head of Science Communication

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